‘How do I know that any person is conscious?’

‘How do I know that any person is conscious?’

‘ How do I know that I was conscious before the present moment?’

– radical skeptic

Since the radical skeptic excludes, in principle, any empirical controls to allay his doubt, he overplays his hand.

It is impossible to doubt everything, for that entails doubting the meaning of the very words used to express radical doubt (reductio ad absurdum).

 

Life’s ‘ratchet game’

How do we think about reality in a way that improves upon the old ways?

There is good news here: it is not entirely up to you to improve reality. Your children, and their children will do the job. So, sit back a little. Enjoy the ride!

Human beings have the unique capacity to play life’s ‘ratchet game’. Children learn the best society has to offer, and can improve upon it. And, your children’s children can start where your children left off. And so on.

My kids are already way ahead of me, since they started where I left off long, long ago, and also vastly ahead of cro-magnon humans. By contrast, chimpanzees start where their ancestors left off, and stay there. They don’t move from this place (chimps are still very cute, though).

Thus, humans can produce science and technology, and pass it on to their descendents. This gives human beings the chance to deploy science and AI tech to create increasingly accurate representations of ‘mind’, ‘DNA’, ‘autism’, ‘pain’, ‘happiness’, and so on. The ratchet game takes us beyond the familiar into exciting new territories.

(I wonder: Can academic philosophy play life’s ‘ratchet game’? It seems to me that philosophy is not terribly good at reaching out to other disciplines, and learning from them in the way that children naturally learn from parents.)

The nature of consciousness

‘The nature of consciousness is a conceptual problem’ – mainstream academic philosopher.

This seems mostly positioning to me: it characterizes philosophy as more fundamental than science and thereby sets the limits of science.

But, what is actually known about the target phenomena of consciousness (e.g., pain)?

A very serious man and his happy family

A very serious-minded man visited his happy family after a long time away, and was shocked. He was shocked because he found it quite impossible to interact with his family. All of his normal reactions and behaviors were out of line with his family’s reactions and behaviors. Sure, the family talked and laughed, but it seemed stilted and awkward-sounding. Tense looks were received, but none acknowledged, at least when he was in the conversation. And there was that disquiet. Such palpable disquiet.

It was terrible.

So, the very serious-minded man, who loved his family very much,  decided that the next family visit would have to feel very different.

Before the next visit, the man had a good idea: he would do the things his family members normally do. He wasn’t sure why it was a good idea, but it made sense to him. His father loved to play indoor bowls. So, he joined a bowls club and played bowls every day. He observed the behavior of the other bowls players and also what they talked about. He gave particular attention to how they talked about what they talked about. And, he copied them. It was difficult at first for the serious-minded man to copy the bowls players, but the players always encouraged him with knowing looks and happy talk. And, the man copied these behaviors too. Soon, conversations were easier and fun. He became more relaxed around others at the club, and more relaxed within himself.

The once-very-serious-now-more-relaxed man felt that copying the bowls players had really made him more like them, and that the players also saw it this way and didn’t mind at all. Maybe they saw it as a kind of complement. He wasn’t sure. It just felt positive. The man was encouraged by this promising first result, and decided to do other things his family liked. His younger brother plays the piano. So, the man took piano lessons. He wasn’t very good at it, and he had a hard time making his fingers work together to create music. But, the man was pleased because he understood that his brother would appreciate the effort, and they could share this experience together.

The once-very-serious-now-empathetic man did visit his very happy family again, and was pleasantly surprised.

‘You’ve changed’, his family soon noticed.

‘I have changed’, he breathed happily. ‘I am a different person now. I am like you’.

Computers will soon act like human beings – then what?

One day, artificial thought will be achieved.

An artificially intelligent computer will say, “that makes me happy.”

Will it feel happy? Assume it will not.

Still: it will act as if it did.  It will act like an intelligent human being. And then what?

My hunch is that adult human beings will view intelligent computers as simplified versions of  themselves (child-like). Human children will view them as peers; ‘friendships’ will form between children and intelligent computers.

Why? I am reminded of Wittgenstein’s remark: ‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul’.

Look at this video of ASIMO.

How would you interact with ASIMO? What would your reactions be?

It is also remarkable that ASIMO does not possess any physiology.

 

What is religion? Next question, please.

What is religion? If this question asks what all religions have in common, then the answer is: next question, please.

What do all religions have in common? Nothing.

In contrast to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Buddhism is atheistic with regard to a creator god. There is no doctrine of karma in Christianity. Hinduism is opulently polythesitic, but Islam is not. And so on.

In this kind of situation, it is more promising to offer a simile. What is religion like? Religion is like a cord composed of braided strands (e.g., a rope). The strands overlap and lie over each other in complex ways. The integrity of the cord does not consist in one strand, but in the arrangement of many strands.

Take any family. Look at the faces of its members. Do they have one facial feature in common?  No. There are both similarities (e.g., eye color), and differences (e.g., face contour). The relationships are complex, not simple. That is how it is. Just look and see for yourself.

Religion is extremely complex. To make a decent start at understanding it, good questions need to be asked. This is not easy. So, I urge looking first. What is observed? Compare your visual experiences. Look first, ask questions later.

Religious pretenders

I am too honest to be religious. Religion lains waste to honest reflection and questioning.

Many people claim to be religious. How many are pretenders?

There may be good reasons why a person pretends to be religious. A religious son adores his devout mother so much that he could not bare her to learn of his atheism. However, unknown to him and family, the mother is an atheist, and has been for decades. Like the son, she became a religious pretender in order to protect her mother’s feelings, and so on.

How to break this circle of lies? Honest reflection and questioning. And that takes great courage.

There is good news here

I cannot predict your every thought and action for the simple reason that most of my own thoughts and actions are completely spontaneous.

I cannot predict what I will do in most instances. I cannot know myself, so I cannot know you. True enough? We are both in the dark, it seems.

That sounds a bit bleak.

Is there any good news?

Yes: A person is not a vacuum. Human thought and action is shared. Shared, copied, modified, suppressed, distilled – we live in each other’s facial expressions.

Why are dreams mysterious?

I wake-up and tell my wife about the dream I had while sleeping. That’s a dream-report.

Dream-reports are given by the dreamer in the first-person present-tense. Even if  I dreamed I had incarnated another person (either a real or imagined person), it is always I (the dreamer) who peers out from the face of the other person during the dream. And that’s what is communicated when I tell my dream to another person.

Why do human beings share dreams? 

Sometimes a dream is amazing. Amazing that I could even dream up such an experience. What is important to human beings in this case is that the dream really did impress me. Dream-reports can be spontaneous responses to what we see during sleep. So: that I dreamt such-and-such is amazing and of more interest to other people than what the dream describes. Dream-reports can therefore function more like exclamations or interjections than descriptions of what the dreamer experienced. 

However, the dreamer may sometimes become frustrated trying to communicate the dream in a dream-report. We try to describe what happened in the dream using the medium of language (the dream-report), but we cannot. The dream eludes the net of language. At least that’s how we feel. The dreamer is frustrated with language and may think that since the dream cannot be described, it points to something beyond itself. But – why must a dream be capable of being described? After all, can you describe all the experiences of your waking life? Try and do it. Why must dreams be any different? In life, human beings are both the way and the wayfarers.

For some reason, we see dream-reports as descriptions of dreams. We see them as fragments of a story we assume can be told in full. Yet, dreams cannot be described to our satisfaction. Frustrating. Frustration leads to puzzlement. Most of the time we are puzzled by dreams (our own, and those of other people). Why? – are dreams seen as mysterious because dream-reports are assumed to be descriptions of dreams? 

Is classical music superior?

It has sometimes been stated that classical music is superior to other forms of music. Why would a person say it? Well, human beings are consummate imitators, and if a person stands to gain by publicly making another copy of it, then imitation – camouflage? – is a strategy for success.

There are other possibilities. Listening to and performing classical music does not conventionally engage the human body in dance. The relative passivity of the body in classical music may therefore signify by default – to some, at least – that this form of music is more cerebral than other forms of music which have a dance component and, therefore, is superior. Certainly, the body produces bodily sensations and perceptions (e.g., propioception). Take those out of the picture, and what is left: mind. Is it correct?